Wednesday, February 17, 2010

[updated] UTAH spring report

When Utah's spring got underway the second week of March, the Utes primary questions were on the defense, at all three levels. See James Durrant's writeup at the Utah Rivals site for many more details. Second-year line coach John Pease hoped to get his players back to the production Utah fans grew used to under Gary Anderson's tutelege, and to answer to this offseason's first question: who will replace DT Kenape Eliapo and DE Koa Misi? At tackle, Neil A'asa appeard to get ahead of Lei Talamaivao and James Aiono; Trevor Reilly leads at end.

There's fruitbasket turnover occuring at linebacker in SLC this offseason, as the Utes graduated one of the conference's best-ever LB corps. So the second question in Salt Lake City was: Will Utah find a linebacking corps this spring? Replacing Mike Wright, Stevenson Sylvester, and Kepa Gaison won't fall to inexperienced players. DC Kalani Sitake, who coaches the linebackers, thinks his team is in better position going into 2010 than it was going into 2009. Projected starter Nai Fotu is out for the year with a torn ACL, J.J. Williams (pictured) and Boo Anderson may have won themselves starting spots with a strong spring. Chad Manis, Chaz Walker, Jamel King, and Matt Martinez were are in the mix for the third spot. Four-star recruit VJ Fehoko doesn't join the team until fall.

In the secondary, Coach Whittingham replaced J.D. Williams, who joined Bobby Hauck's staff at UNLV, by moving his TE coach, Jay Hill, to cornerback. Hill gets one starter back, Brandon Burton. Conroy Black is pushing Lamar Chapman gets the first-team snaps at the other end. In between them are two question marks, making the last defensive question for the Utes: Will the new safeties save the secondary? Only Justin Taplin-Ross (pictured) nailed down a starting spot this spring. Early-enrolled Damian Payne practiced much of the spring with the first team, rotating with redshirt freshman Chris Washington.

On offense, the questions were less pressing to start the spring, owing to a much fuller roster of returners. However, returning starter and phenom Jordan Wynn went down on the first play of the spring game, and there're rumblings his injury was more serious than the Whittingham has let on. Fortunately for the Utes, senior Terrance Cain (pictured) took over and was brilliant, as was redshirt freshman Griff Robles. It appears the Utes' attack is not dependent on Wynn.

Fully four starters return on the o-line, leaving a battle (and the first offensive question) only at left tackle: who will replace all-MWC Zane Beadles? Caleb Shlauderaff moves over from guard into that spot this spring, and that move may be permanent if the Utes can't find a better tackle. Walter Watts will take Shladeraff's spot next to center. Percy Taumoelau is also in the mix at left tackle.

Matt Asiata was granted a medical redshirt, but didn't practicing this spring. Eddie Wide and Sausan Shakerin had the show largely to themselves, and put on a good one.

At wideout, the story is much different. David Reed, Aiona Key, and John Peel took just over half the team's receptions and even more of the team's receiving yards with them to graduation. Only Jerome Brooks returns, having had over 17 receptions for more than 154 yards in 2009. DeVonte Christopher, Shaky Smithson, and Luke Matthews return with Brooks, all having caught passes last season, and all hoping to answer the question Who'll be Jordan Wynn's go-to receivers? They were pushed hard for first team snaps by walk-on Griffin McNabb (pictured), who who shone late in the spring, and was the go-to receiver in the spring game. The team's three receiver recruits don't enroll until the fall.

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